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Buena Vista Social Club: Lost and Found

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When the American guitarist and producer Ry Cooder traveled to Cuba in the mid-’90s, he wasn’t even intending to assemble several local son musicians for a group recording. Circumstances led to the creation of the ad hoc collective henceforth known as Buena Vista Social Club, and the rest of the story is now well known: a hit documentary film, boatloads of albums sold, world tours and international recognition for the individual players (some now deceased) as well as wider recognition for this vibrant brand of traditional Latin music.

Lost and Found collects previously unreleased odds and ends from those original sessions and subsequent dates, both studio and live. All of the now-familiar participants-Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo and others-are effectively represented in various settings, and while the initial thrill of discovery is long since past, the music remains as seductive and dynamic as it did that first time.

Among the leftovers from the original Egrem Studios sessions of 1996, “Macusa,” written by Segundo and featuring the author and Eliades Ochoa on tandem guitars and close-harmony vocals, is a particularly gleaming slice of son. Intrinsically rhythmic, its layers of percussion mixed to the same level as the string action, it hurdles forward purposefully and gleefully. “Guajira en F,” a salsa from an unfinished solo album by trombonist Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos, sizzles steadily until Miguelito Valdés breaks out his trumpet solo, giving notice to the rest of the horn crew that it’s time to turn it loose. Portuondo’s lead vocals, on “Tiene Sabor” and “Lágrimas Negra,” serve as reminders that she is one of the island’s greatest gifts to the world.

It’s the album’s least raucous entry that may just be its most rewarding, however: “Como Siento Yo,” the late Rubén González alone at the piano, ruminative, playful, refined and ethereal, transcending language and anything else that might create barriers.

Originally Published